being an edge case

the story of upgrading to windows 10

This is the story of the last thirty or so hours of my life, and the many events that led up to it. It's not so much a cautionary tale, or a woe is me whinefest, or really anything other than a record of what I just went through to get Windows 10 running on my desktop, Asuka 2.0.

asuka 1.0

It starts in 2010, when I purchased a Gateway DX-4320 from Amazon to replace my underpowered Dell desktop, Kimiko. Asuka was to be more future-proof, with more memory, much more hard drive space, a better processor than ever before, and at last a graphics card that wasn't the bottom-most in its class. I discovered the memory couldn't be upgraded any further, and the GPU was still mid-grade at best, but it ran everything I could throw at it and kept soldiering on. It had Windows 7 out of the box, a much appreciated upgrade from Kimiko's Vista, even if it took me a month to warm up to no-text taskbar icons, and with that much hard drive space, plus another 2TB external drive I picked up with it, I had more than I thought I'd ever need.

The problem was ventilation. My desk was rather enclosed, leaving the chassis trying to draw air from one wall and expelling through a spaghetti of cable in back. The house wasn't well ventilated either, becoming very hot and humid in summers. Asuka's core temperature would frequently exceed 60C under load during the hottest months. On top of that, my family had three dogs. Three shedding dogs, in summer, which coupled with bad ventilation led to lots of dust.

I didn't dust Asuka 1.0 out remotely as much as I should have. She suffered at least one bluescreen crash in the summer of 2012, following an attempt to stream a round of Left 4 Dead 2 with Bronystate, and producing core temps over 80C. As an AMD processor, the core's heatsink was in a very inconvenient arrangement to clean out, and the fan started caking dust onto the sink. A couple years later, the power supply's fan began suffering too, as its intake sat at the top of the chassis, pointed to the tangle of power cables running card readers and the optical drive. And the rear chassis fan started falling over soon after; the two fans would buzz loudly if the system wasn't running them at full speed.

In early 2014, after moving to a new home, and a completely enclosed desk, the power supply finally gave up, refusing to start one morning. Thankfully, modern power supplies are standardized and idiot-proof, and I was able to replace it by the afternoon without issue. As a bonus, it was a slightly more capacious PSU than what it had replaced, giving me the option of perhaps someday upgrading the graphics card to something that wouldn't choke on shader-crazy games.

asuka 2.0

Then fast forward to March 2015, slowly emerging from the stuffy air of a Minnesota winter, and dust was building up again. Core temps when idling would reach 55C and stay there, although the new power supply's massive downward facing fan was helping the core fan keep the heatsink ventilated, and under load the core wouldn't generally exceed 60.

Capacitors, however, are not so generously covered by heatsinks and high speed fans, and the row of caps next to the core were fed up with the bad airflow. And so one heinously stressful day, they gave up, instantly downing the system, and refusing to produce power. In my panic to try and dust things out, and trying to uncover the heatsink, I ended up pulling the CPU out of its socket – the thermal paste had fused to the heatsink block. Five capacitors on the board had clearly ruptured, with a few others visibly bulging. Asuka 1.0 was officially toast.

I was unemployed, and rather limited on money. I'd raised a couple hundred dollars in donations from my dear friends at Bronystate, but I was intending for it all to go towards starting transition, or at least making preparations for it. And here landed in my lap a requirement to replace a motherboard, and CPU, and given the chassis fan's slow demise, a chassis too.

I still had a laptop, and strained my back and shoulders hunched over the bed with it, keeping in touch with Bronystate. We assembled the best possible build I could afford with the remaining money from my fundraiser, with everyone's approval that it would be better used keeping my livelihood intact than a possible non-starter of transition. New chassis, new motherboard, new CPU. Rush delivery.

The chassis was a normal black square, with red angles on the front rather reminiscent of the lines on Asuka's namesake's plugsuit, and not too flashy or demanding of complex cooling setups. Enough space to pack everything in, modern fittings to enable future upgrades, and plenty of mounting points for fans, so that the new box would never overheat again. The motherboard would support four times the memory I had to give it, and the standard array of peripherals, plus USB 3.0 sockets to speed up my external hard drives. Its CPU socket would handle processors anywhere from potato to god, and while its core power connector wouldn't handle the very tippy top tier processors, it would be properly future- proof.

The CPU is a Pentium G3258, coming highly recommended for its ability to overclock out of the box. It was also fairly low cost, representing only half the total amount I was having to spend on the lot (with chassis and motherboard splitting the rest). Its per-core performance claimed to be well ahead of Asuka 1.0's Phenom IIx6. And being Intel's tock build, power efficient, meaning much less heat production – even less chance of ever overheating again.

But it has only two cores, and one thread per core. Immediately upon completing the build, and using a Windows 7 Professional key I'd picked up from Dreamspark years prior, I discovered it to be unable to support quite the load I'd been putting on Asuka for years. Streaming suddenly became an endangered prospect, with many of my popular games taking up too much CPU time to give the encoder any room, or worse fighting with the encoder and freezing both parties. No amount of tweaking or enabling or disabling this or that could resolve the fact that there were four less threads available to the system. I felt strong buyer's remorse, lamenting that I'd had to make the purchase under such stress.

It's gotten better. I've learned what I can and can't quite stream. I've found games that not only share the core happily with the stream encoder, but manage to outperform much simpler games by huge margins. Minecraft even manages to run decently, although that's more owing to having only 40 mods active rather than 200 or so.

windows 10

And so comes the announcement of Windows 10, due out July 29, 2015, and free if installed in the first year. I'd skipped Windows 8, partly from lack of money, mostly from strong dissatisfaction with their UI designs, and so was eager to try the much applauded new version. I installed a Preview build into VirtualBox, discovering a BIOS setting I hadn't yet enabled that I needed, and while the single core it had access to made it glacially slow, it looked great.

Release day, news breaks that the notifier application in everyone's systray was going to wait months before actually offering up the upgrade, giving priority to existing Preview builds – my VM didn't count – and high spec systems. But you could go grab the ISO and force the upgrade immediately. I subjected my laptop, Takara, to it first, since her system is expendable – all important stuff happens and lives on Asuka. Don't save anything, just upgrade it to Windows 10 Pro. Takara's hard drive is slow, the process took two hours.

And it just worked. There was the desktop, summoning forth a wallpaper I haven't used in at least four years – I'm still utterly baffled where Microsoft conjured it from – and rapidly learning my mumbly voice over a terrible laptop microphone. New file explorer, new task manager, virtual desktops as a native feature, almost as though Windows had discovered other OSes had been innovating. I went to bed and woke up early to start on Asuka.

The first task was to swap hard drives. Asuka 1.0's drive, dubbed Langley – after Evangelion Asuka's middle name – had been living alongside Kimiko's old drive since March. I couldn't bear to lose 1.5 terabytes of data, after all, even if I'd ferociously gone through and backed up every file I could possibly want access to on one of the externals. Kimiko's drive was only 500GB large, and was nearing capacity after only a few months use – Steam games get away from you quickly – and I'd wanted to get the 1.5TB drive back as primary.

So Windows Backup was the only guaranteed option to transfer Asuka 2.0's install of Windows 7 Pro wholesale from one drive to another, necessitating a pit stop on one of the external drives. Thankfully, I had 800GB available, and the backup declared it would compress the system image to 300 – I could fit a backup of Asuka 2.0 twice over! I was feeling pretty good about the process.

It took two hours to image the drive.

It took another four hours to deploy it to Langley.

edge case

Windows 7 booted perfectly fine once the restore finally completed, immediately making a restore point to save the configuration. The partition expanded without any issues to fill the rest of the drive that didn't exist when the image was taken. Enough stalling, I decided, let's upgrade now. Windows Update perked up in the systray, reminding me yet again that there were some updates waiting to go that would require a restart. It could wait; the coming OS would have its own updates to worry about, after all.

Installing… restart… why is the boot logo still Windows 7's flag? We're sorry, we couldn't install Windows 10. Failed in the safe OS phase of the process, so we put Windows 7 back the way we found it.

Impressive, and greatly appreciated that at the slightest hint of trouble it immediately backed out and restored everything. But why had it failed? Google was unhelpful, returning months old threads about the Preview builds. Maybe Windows Update did need to finish its work before trying an upgrade. Sounded fair.

Update… installing… restart…..


Launch Startup Repair?

Suddenly Asuka wasn't booting. A note of anxiety ran through me, but all would never be lost, since the 500GB drive containing Asuka 2.0 as she was 24 hours prior was completely detached and safe, ready to reconnect and boot in case of disaster. System restore to an hour earlier, Windows Update can wait. There's troubleshooting to be done about the upgrade.

What followed was some six hours of Googling, installing, restarting, failing, installing some more, failing some more, all returning fantastically unhelpful errors. A thread finally pointed me towards where the Setup process keeps its logs, suggesting VirtualBox's network adapter was failing to.. adapt.. to the coming upgrade – sensing driver incompatibility, Windows 10 would panic and back out of the process. Uninstall VirtualBox. Uninstall Virtual Drive Clone, an ISO mounter I'd picked up a couple weeks earlier. Unplug everything except the keyboard and mouse. Still failure.

At last I stumbled across a reason. Intel had just pushed a microcode update to Microsoft, who in turn pushed it through Windows Update. This code was breaking G3258 processors that were overclocked, was a recommended update in Windows 7, and baked into the initial loadout of Windows 10. Angry threads had been going on for months about the failure with this specific processor – my processor. The guaranteed fix: run stock, not overclocked at all, or disable one of the cores. I was dumbfounded. Here yet again my panicked decision to follow my friend's advice on buying the CPU was haunting me.

It struck me around 4am that the motherboard's BIOS had a "performance" setting, increasing an attached processor's ability while sacrificing some heat and power efficiency. Maybe that was overclocking it even the slightest. I flipped it to "normal" mode, promising balanced power, speed, and heat. One last try, if it fails I go to bed, if it succeeds I stay up with it.

Lo and behold, it made it all the way to installing OS. Then features. Then the last minute settings.

It was taking a while. Another hour passed since landing on "Taking care of a few things", but I could still hear the hard drive occasionally cluck with activity. Asuka 2.0 was already pretty lived-in, and some searching revealed this last stage was Setup migrating the Windows 7 user profile to Windows 10.

Six hours of sleep later, it was still there. No hard drive activity anymore. The slowly pulsing color background wasn't moving. It looked well and truly frozen. So a bit of hand wringing later, I hit the reset button.

BIOS.. boot screen.. login! Back to final setup.. "taking care of a few things", slow pulse color.. and then stop. Frozen again.

One last resort, going against what I felt I was willing to put up with to get it going. I disabled the second core. Boot.. startup repair couldn't find anything to fix.. login! Desktop! Why is it so small and black..

home stretch

It had at least reached desktop, so Windows 10 was definitely installed and functioning. But the graphics card had suddenly forgotten how many monitors I had, or at what resolution. In the middle of trying to get it to detect the second monitor, everything froze. Reset..

Round two, disconnected the second monitor. Asuka was now as barebones as could be, with only keyboard, mouse, and screen attached (and network cable and sound, of course). Still black desktop, still small. My many programs were still trying to start up, but it felt like it was getting smarter about managing on one core. I could increase the screen resolution – not to native, but at least bigger. And then, a hardware disconnect noise, reconnect, screen goes dark and returns at native resolution. It had just finished locating the graphics driver. I felt a little more hopeful. Still wasn't enough, though, as things froze again.

Round three, this time I reenabled fast boot in the BIOS, one of the many things I'd tweaked in my desperation to get it working. Startup apps were still fighting each other for core time at the desktop – I learned the new Task Manager doesn't ask you if you're really sure about killing a process anymore, and started killing them off to give more room for the OS to do what it needed. It turns out Core Temp doesn't play nicely with Windows 8, or 10, and was the cause of the latest freezes. Fair enough, one uninstall later, no problem.

Updated the graphics drivers. Uninstalled ATI's bloatware. Things were starting to look stable. Let the new Windows Update have a look, finds some updates, maybe one of them undoes the update that broke my CPU. I couldn't hope quite that much yet. A restart to be safe, even though Windows Update hadn't asked for one.

Next hardware, starting with my webcam to get microphone back and try out Cortana on Asuka – she'd already won me over on Takara. No issues, though the driver declared it wanted a reboot. It could wait. External drives next, both connecting without issues, and a bit of shuffling their ports to try and fix the media library drive which had a habit of randomly powering down under USB 3.0. Everything connected, no problems. Restart for the webcam. Booting fine, account converted to the Microsoft account, Cortana happily learning my voice. And all performing better than expected, given only one core to work with.

And so I wondered. Restart. BIOS. Enable the other core. Fingers crossed so hard if they were game models they'd glitch out the inverse kinematics and fly off into a wall.

And lo, she did boot. Two cores, lightning fast from cold boot to login screen. Desktop still takes about five minutes to stabilize with all the programs trying to start up, but that's been a problem no matter how much CPU power is around.


Through this whole process I had Bronystate open on Takara, relaying my many troubles. I may have scared a couple people away from upgrading to Windows 10 so soon, though I continue to stress that I seem to have been a severe edge case. Moving Windows 7 from one hard drive to another – a hardware change that tends to freak out some paranoid security-minded components – and a CPU that had been specifically broken by a recent update that had been folded into the coming OS release, coupled with many processes all fighting for limited core time to acquire new drivers or simply start up, all combined to make installing Windows 10 on Asuka take about 30 hours. At the end of it all, I think it's worth it.

Cortana's voice recognition blows me away, almost perfectly understanding my voice even if I mumble or have interfering noise in the background. And when she does get it wrong, she at least gets it wrong in hilarious, if rather inappropriate, ways. "Hey Cortana, I'm tired" shouldn't be interpreted as "hentai", but it gives Bronystate something to laugh about. Her easter eggs are a great addition of personality, something that's been sorely missing from Windows since Clippy.

Yes I said it. I miss Clippy. And Cortana does too.

The notification toasts are wonderful, a much better solution than transient balloons popping out of the tray. I get a built in alarm and timer app, hooked into the notifications. The taskbar is shorter than it was in Windows 7, freeing up some extra pixels of screen space. It natively spans both monitors.

Windows finally has a multimonitor taskbar!

And yeah there's some obnoxious features like ads in Solitaire (which seem to function more as "hey did you know we have an app store?") or achievements for flipping over your first card in Solitaire ("hey your grandma's Solitaire works with Xbox now, cool huh?"), but in the coming months someone's bound to nail down the exact addresses used to serve the ads and provide HOSTS entries to kill them. People are going to balk at the massive datamining made possible by Cortana's information gathering, but I feel that's a functional requirement for the service. A good deal of search processing is clearly done off-site, and it can't well know if you have a meeting coming if it can't see your calendar.

There's FUD about the default option to share Wifi passwords with contacts, ignoring the part where both parties have to be on each other's contacts, and the share seems to only fire when one tries to connect to the network. It can use your bandwidth to help serve updates to people on the internet, muh data! Because we all know Windows Update has always been not glacially slow.

Maybe I've lost my mind and shouldn't be okay with BREACHES OF PRIVACY, but I'm feeling like that bad adage of "if you have nothing to hide". Cortana works with the filesystem indexer, which doesn't have access to anything outside the user folder. Where do I keep most of my private stuff? On the externals, not indexed, not visible to Microsoft. If Skype is listening in on all group chats, then some poor sap has to read through the sorts of bullshit the Bronystaters post in our groups.

There's a couple bugs. The volume wheel on my keyboard is apparently not precise enough for the driver's liking, causing the new on-screen volume indicator to bug out if I scroll it too fast. Cortana has limited queries she can respond to, without defaulting to just packing up the detected sentence and sending it to Bing. She only uses Bing, too; someone's bound to find a way to force her to Google. The Metro apps failed at first, but that problem was known during the beta, and a quick command prompt later they're back in place.

Oh yeah, you can finally resize Command Prompt. Almost like someone looked at a Linux terminal emulator in the last twenty years.

So yeah, that's been my partial week. Asuka 2.0 runs Windows 10, defeating a host of annoying, and depressing, problems. A terabyte of hard drive space has materialized from thin air on drive C as far as all my programs are concerned. The new task manager shows in detail how much more efficient with RAM everything is being, even if it tends to use a bunch of core time itself for a moment.

It's been a long and highly stressful process, filled with issues out of my control. But despite my mind's best efforts to demand I give up and put the other hard drive back in and go back to the functional Windows 7, I did persist.

And that's personal upgrading. A change for the better.